Canadian volunteer, Daniela Hoolaeff, has shared with us her story about her experience volunteering in Ghana as a Medical Assistant and how it’s changed her life. Daniela was also the recipient of Lattitude’s Adrian Evans Award, awarded for her exceptional contribution over and above her role as a volunteer in Ghana. Thank you, Daniela, for sharing your inspiring story!
After I finished high school, I decided to live in Ghana for 5 months volunteering as a Medical Assistant. This amazing opportunity was provided by the organization Lattitude Global Volunteering. I quickly became part of a lovely family in Akim Oda, met amazing people who are now some of my closest friends, spent my weekdays expanding my knowledge at the Jubilee Hospital working alongside experienced nurses and doctors, and my weekends exploring the beautiful country. To say the least, deciding to take a Gap Year was one of the best decisions of my life.
Why a Gap Year?
During my final year of high school, I knew I had two options for what I chose to do the following year:
Gap Year for volunteer and travel
For months I pondered the possibilities of how the path I would choose would influence my life. My ongoing lists of pros and cons made my second option the obvious choice.
Gap Year for Volunteer and Travel
An opportunity to truly make a positive impact in people's lives
A challenge (which ultimately promotes personal growth)
A chance to meet like-minded individuals
Gain new perspectives
The opportunity to work in the healthcare industry, and gain insight towards future career choices
Complete immersion in a new and very different culture
Expand knowledge on the countless topics that being abroad provides
Gain new valuable skills
An overall amazing, and perhaps life changing experience
Can be perceived as less secure
Lattitude Global Volunteering was the organization that really stood out to me for my Gap Year. They had an easy to follow website, accountable staff, and a sense of security (which my parents appreciated). The preparation was made easy through a step-by-step process and people that were always available to help. Everything was smooth sailing.
Knowing Ghana was a developing country piqued my interest, mostly because I knew that the experience would be so different to anything else I’d ever lived through. I truly wanted to be immersed in a completely different way of living. I also knew that if Ghana was considered to be more challenging, then I’d ultimately benefit through my personal growth.
Family and Community
Overall the people I met in Ghana were all very kind, welcoming, friendly and helpful. An example of that would be the first time my host partner and I took a tro tro (a run down mini bus) from our friends’ placement about a half hour away. We were clearly confused in the busy city streets, and although we said we would figure out our way home, the elderly woman who sat beside us insisted she escort us home to ensure we made it safely. Upon arrival back to our home, a casual Twi language lesson emerged, along with laughter, from both the kind lady and my host family. I later reunited with this lovely lady nearing the end of my stay. She still remembered me, and I expressed my gratitude for her kindness once again. Primarily, the main intention from many locals was to help us. Generally, I found that the crowds around me exuded warmth and happiness, especially when dancing and music were involved.
My host family was absolutely amazing. They are the kindest, most welcoming and caring people. It was safe to say that I very quickly felt at home: they made adapting to a completely different lifestyle not only much easier, but very enjoyable. I’d laugh as Alberta, my host mother, would boil water for all the nightly bucket showers. She is only 10 years older, so our bond was quite close and filled with good humor.. Although she did take on a motherly role as she reminded me to wear socks to prevent mosquito bites at night. She also taught me how wash clothing by hand, prepare their traditional meals, and pound banku and fufu. The environment around our household was pretty well always happy, the kids laughing, adults cooking or washing clothes. I spent a lot of my time smiling, admiring the simplicity of interacting with the loved ones I had grown close to.
There’s no doubt that what I enjoyed most during my placement and time in Ghana were the people. I grew incredibly close with my host family, as well as fellow volunteers. Those bonds ultimately made my overall experience in Ghana absolutely unreal, and I am beyond appreciative of that.
Volunteering as a Medical Assistant
The hospital I was placed in was very well established. The facility was clean, and they had a sufficient amount of resources to provide aid, as well as qualified nurses and doctors. Looking past some broken tiles, small rooms and cracks in the cement, it was clear that the system worked. I spent the majority of my time volunteering in the kids ward, and initially I would solely observe. Once I started taking on more initiative (which was pretty essential since there was very little direction), I was taken under the wings of a couple key nursing staff. I gained confidence in filling out the volume one forms, mixing vaccines, communicating with patients, preparing for nurses to set lines, and eventually setting them myself. I was also very fortunate to have had the opportunity to observe two surgeries, as well as a natural birth.
Alberta’s Clinic and Pharmacy
Alberta is my Ghana mom; she works as a nurse at the same hospital I volunteered at. Through many conversations with her I was able to gain insight into her dreams and aspirations, and develop a very close relationship with her. I discovered that her main goal in life, similarly to mine, is to make a positive impact in people’s lives. I realized that almost everything she does is to help people, and to make people happy. She informed me that she would regularly visit the quite underdeveloped village Aperade, about an hour away, to dress wounds and treat injuries. There is a hospital nearby, however, it lacks the space, supplies, and staff to be able to accommodate the needs of the entire community. As a result, residents will frequently avoid seeking the care they need. Alberta’s passion and drive to help people truly inspired me to try my best to work towards making her ideas of establishing a clinic and pharmacy in Aperade a reality. I started a GoFundme page, which enabled us to begin the renovations on the run down building. I have the mindset that with hard work and the support of the community, I can provide Alberta the opportunity to truly help make a difference in these people’s lives. My mission is to fund the renovations, constructions, and supplies that Alberta’s Pharmacy and Clinic will need in order to operate, so that the residents of Aperade receive the care they deserve.
What was it like to be recognized as the recipient of Lattitude’s Adrian Evans Award, presented by our Royal Patron, HRH Princess Anne, who also donated to the cause?
To be recognized on such a large scale was mind-boggling for me. I was in complete disbelief as Kweku, the country manager in Ghana, informed me I was being considered for such a prestigious award. I had a sense of pride and determination that strengthened as others saw value in Alberta’s Clinic and Pharmacy. This caused the drive to establish the clinic and pharmacy to grow even stronger.
What have you been doing, and how have you felt, since returning from Ghana?
I returned from Ghana with mixed feelings. I wasn’t just leaving Ghana, I was leaving another home, another family. Being unsure of when I’d see the wonderful people I became so close too again, was quite an uneasy feeling. I was looking forward to reuniting with family and friends, which was probably the best part of returning back to Canada.
The month and a half that I spent back in Canada was good for the most part, although I found it difficult to adapt myself back into the western lifestyle. Reverse culture shock hit me, and everything was once again different. The way of living in Canada is simplified, in a much more privileged way.. However, what made adjusting harder than expected was being surrounded by people who just didn’t fully understand everything I had experienced and my new perspectives that had strengthened while being away.
After a month of being settled back home, I decided to book some flights to New Zealand to travel and visit a couple friends that I had met in Ghana. I have just completed a road trip around the South Island, and after two months I am heading back home to Canada.
What do you have planned for your own future?
In September, I will commence the Bachelors of Athletic and Exercise Therapy program at Camosun College. I’m really excited to further my education in the sports education field. Until then, and perhaps during, I hope to continue with my spontaneous travels and wonderful adventures.